Back from suspension, Cordell Pemsl wants to be a big presence again for Hawkeyes

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Cordell Pemsl owned up to his mistake and never lost the support of his Iowa basketball teammates.

Now the junior forward wants to start using his big voice to inject some energy and confidence in his team.

Pemsl was arrested for OWI on Sept. 20 and suspended from team activities. He sat out Iowa’s season-opening victory over Southern Illinois-Edwardsville. This came on the heels of missing all but two games last season because of knee surgery.

“It wasn’t an easy time for myself or our team or I mean even the program itself. I know what I did wrong and I learned from that mistake,” Pemsl said Wednesday in his first public comments since his arrest. “They didn’t look at me any differently. They know I’m their brother and that I’ll do anything for them and vice versa. I was really appreciative of the way that the team opened up to me.”

In this Dec. 6, 2018, file photo, Iowa forward Cordell Pemsl celebrates during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Iowa City, Iowa.

Pemsl has played in Iowa’s subsequent two games, a loss to DePaul and a win against Oral Roberts. But he has yet to make a field (0-for-4), with just three free throws, three rebounds, one assist and one blocked shot to show for his 23 minutes.

That’s not the Pemsl Hawkeye fans saw in his first two seasons, when he averaged 7.3 points,  4.7 rebounds and was an emotional catalyst that home fans loved and visiting fans despised.

Pemsl admitted he’s still trying to figure out how best to help this new group of Hawkeyes, which features five players he’s never before taken the court with in a game that counted. He knows he has to be more assertive, starting with Thursday’s 6 p.m. home game vs.  North Florida (4-1) on BTN.

“I feel like at certain times we become a little lax as a team,” Pemsl said.

“I find myself a guy that … kind of wears their emotion on their sleeve, and there’s not a lot of guys on our team that do that. And sometimes you just need that little extra. You see someone dive for that loose ball or get up and start yelling. And it’s just contagious.”

Sophomore forward Joe Wieskamp, a preseason all-Big Ten Conference selection, said there was no hesitation among the Hawkeyes when it came to embracing Pemsl.

“His presence in the locker room is huge. He’s always been a leader. It was kind of a no-brainer for us to welcome him back,” Wieskamp said.

“He’s definitely a guy that can get your attention.”

Pemsl, at 6-foot-9, 248 pounds, said his knee is 100% healthy. He still views himself as a power forward who can be an excellent passer alongside centers Luka Garza and Ryan Kriener. He has 87 assists in his 70 games. But he also believes he can still find mismatches in the low post and show off the efficiency that has seen him make 59% of his field-goal attempts.

That, plus bring a little physical swagger. That has always been Pemsl’s way. He’s trying to be smarter about it now.

“You don’t want to be the guy who is just yelling for no reason and just being dumb on the floor. You have to pick your times to play physical. It’s situations where you’re going to get guys up, you’re going to encourage guys, you’re going to give guys confidence, get the crowd into it,” Pemsl said.

Jordan Bohannon will play, Patrick McCaffery probably won't

Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said senior guard Jordan Bohannon is “getting closer to being himself” after May surgery on his hip. Bohannon is testing his hip in early-season games, and is averaging 7.7 points on 37% shooting.

“He's going to keep playing for a while and then we'll see how he feels,” McCaffery said.

But Fran McCaffery’s son, Patrick, a freshman forward, likely will miss a second consecutive game. Patrick McCaffery has been practicing with the team but is experiencing some residual health effects from the thyroid cancer he had as a 14-year-old. That’s why he missed the Oral Roberts game.

“When you go through what his body went through — you talk about his weight, you talk about his energy level, you talk about his sleeping, his eating, his digestive system, it's completely different than what anybody else goes through, and it takes a huge toll when you are going against the athletes the caliber of the guys he's going against right now,” Fran McCaffery said of Patrick.

“He's doing the best he can, and we're working with our medical staff and our nutrition folks to try to help him.”

Mark Emmert covers the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Register. Reach him at or 319-339-7367. Follow him on Twitter at @MarkEmmert.

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